An Historical Ecological Investigation of Ifugao Irrigated Terraced-Rice Agriculture and Social Organization


Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Grants to Individuals in East and Southeast Asian Archaeology and Early History Dissertation Fellowships (North America)




This research investigates the relationship between irrigation and social organization in the northern upland Philippines. Recent anthropological studies have identified the limitations of “top-down” approaches to interpreting ancient and contemporary irrigation systems. Ethnographically documented societies in areas such as the Southeast Asia and the Andes confirm that complex irrigation systems and intensified agriculture developed in the absence of centralized political control. This study documents geographic and environmental parameters of traditional Ifugao terrace irrigation as a complement to previous research in lowland tropical settings. To investigate the history and growth of the Ifugao agricultural system, this study uses GIS technology to identify areas best suited for terrace construction; conducts archaeological excavations and soil auguring to determine the age of settlements and terraces; and includes interviews with Ifugao farmers to determine how labor was deployed to construct and maintain their irrigation terraces. Despite substantial changes in Ifugao social organization since the mid-twentieth century, persistence in the Ifugao rice production system is a testament to the effectiveness of self-organizing systems of irrigation agriculture. This research contributes to both the historical ecological literature on political transformation in intensive production systems and on broader resilient systems.